#AtoZChallenge2015: the T34 tank #9May #WWII

Today I wish to celebrate a hero. Soon Europe will remember May 1945, and victory over the Axis powers. This franco-german jewish household will remember the millions of soviet soldiers who died in the war, and all the others, from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia… India, Africa, Viet-Nam and many places who were called upon to fight the hydra. We will also remember the resistance, first in Germany – the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (KZ) was opened in 1934 to destroy the opposition, trade-unionists, communists, socialists, christians, and ultimately the German Jews, before many others – and then across Europe, with a special mention of Greece and Yugoslavia…

However this hero is a machine, the soviet designed and built T34 tank, that together with infantry fronted all the battles, from Stalingrad to Berlin:

Monument to Soviet Tank Crew Warriors in Sevastopol (T-34)“The T-34 was essential in resisting the German summer offensive in 1942, and executing the double encirclement manoeuver that cut off the German Sixth Army at the Battle of Stalingrad in December 1942. The Sixth Army was surrounded, and eventually surrendered in February 1943, a campaign widely regarded as the turning point of the war on the Eastern Front.

In 1943, the Soviets formed Polish and Czech armies-in-exile, and these started to receive the T-34 Model 1943 with a hexagonal turret. Like the Soviet forces themselves, the Polish and Czech tank crews were sent into action quickly with little training, and suffered high casualties.

In July 1943, the Germans launched Operation Citadel, in the region around Kursk, their last major offensive on the Eastern Front in World War II. It was the debut of the German Panther tank, although the numbers employed at Kursk were small and the brunt of the burden carried by the Panzer IIIStuG III, and Panzer IV. The campaign featured the largest tank battles in history. The high-water mark of the battle was the massive armour engagement at Prokhorovka, which began on 12 July, though the vast majority of armour losses on both sides were caused by artillery and mines, rather than tanks.[85] Over 6,000 fully tracked armoured vehicles, 4,000 combat aircraft, and 2 million men are believed to have participated in these battles…

The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank which had a profound and lasting effect on the field of tank design. Although its armour and armament were surpassed later in the war, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient, and influential tank design of World War II.[3] At its introduction, the T-34 possessed an unprecedented combination of firepower, mobility, protection, and ruggedness. Its 76.2 mm (3 in) high-velocity tank gun provided a substantial increase in firepower over any of the T-34’s contemporaries;[4] its heavy sloped armour was difficult to penetrate by most contemporary anti-tank weapons. First encountered in 1941, German tank general von Kleist called it “the finest tank in the world”[5] and Heinz Guderian confirmed the T-34’s “vast superiority” over German armour[6] and found it “very worrying.” [7]

The T-34 was the mainstay of Soviet armoured forces throughout World War II. The design and construction of the tank were continuously refined during the war to enhance effectiveness and decrease costs, allowing steadily greater numbers of T-34s to be fielded despite heavy losses. It was the most-produced tank of the war, and the second most-produced tank of all time after its successor, the T-54/55 series.[8] By the end of the war in 1945, the T-34 had replaced many light and heavy tanks in Red Army service. It accounted for the majority of Soviet tank production, and following the war it was widely exported. Its evolutionary development led directly to the T-54/55 series of tanks, built until 1981 and still operational as of 2015 and which itself led to the T-62T-72, and T-90 tanks which, along with several Chinese tanksbased on the T-55, form the backbone of many armies even today. In 1996, T-34 variants were still in service in at least 27 countries…

In 1937, the Red Army had assigned engineer Mikhail Koshkin to lead a new team to design a replacement for the BT tanks at the Kharkiv Komintern Locomotive Plant (KhPZ). The prototype tank, designated A-20, was specified with 20 mm (0.8 in) of armour, a 45 mm (1.77 in) gun, and the new Model V-2-34 engine, using less-flammable diesel fuel in a V12configuration designed by Konstantin Chelpan. It also had an 8×6-wheel convertible drive similar to the BT tank’s 8×2, which allowed it to run on wheels without caterpillar tracks.[10] This feature had greatly saved on maintenance and repair of the unreliable tank tracks of the early 1930s, and allowed tanks to exceed 85 kilometres per hour (53 mph) on roads, but gave no advantage in combat and its complexity made it difficult to maintain. By 1937-38, track design had improved and the designers considered it a waste of space, weight, and maintenance resources, despite the road speed advantage.[11] The A-20 also incorporated previous research (BT-IS and BT-SW-2 projects) into sloped armour: its all-round sloped armour plates were more likely to deflect rounds than perpendicular armour.[12]

During the Battle of Lake Khasan in July 1938 and the Battles of Khalkhin Gol in 1939, an undeclared border war with Japan on the frontier with occupied Manchuria, the Soviets deployed numerous tanks against the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Although the IJA Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks had diesel engines,[13] the Red Army’s T-26 and BT tanks used petrol engines which, while common in tank designs of the time, often burst into flames when hit by IJA tank-killer teams[14] using Molotov cocktails. Poor quality welds in the Soviet armour plates left small gaps between them, and flaming petrol from the Molotov cocktails easily seeped into the fighting and engine compartment; portions of the armour plating that had been assembled with rivets also proved to be vulnerable.[15] The Soviet tanks were also easily destroyed by the Japanese Type 95 tank’s 37 mm gunfire, despite the low velocity of that gun,[16] or “at any other slightest provocation.”[17] The use of riveted armour led to a problem called “spalling“, whereby the impact of enemy shells, even if they failed to disable the tank or kill the crew on their own, would cause the rivets to break off and become projectiles inside the tank…

Valuable lessons from Lake Khasan and Khalkhin Gol regarding armour protection, mobility, quality welding, and main guns were incorporated into the new T-34 tank, which represented a substantial improvement over the BT and T-26 tanks in all four areas.[20] Koshkin’s team completed two prototype T-34s in January 1940. In April and May, they underwent a grueling 2,000-kilometre (1,200 mi) drive from Kharkiv to Moscow for a demonstration for the Kremlin leaders, to the Mannerheim Line in Finland, and back to Kharkiv via Minsk and Kiev.[19] Some drivetrain shortcomings were identified and corrected…

Over two years, the unit production cost of the T-34 was reduced from 269,500 rubles in 1941, to 193,000, and then to 135,000.[33]Production time was cut in half by the end of 1942, even though most experienced factory workers had been sent to the battlefield and were replaced by a mixed workforce that included 50% women, 15% boys, and 15% invalids and old men. Originally “beautifully crafted machines with excellent exterior finish comparable or superior to those in Western Europe or America”, later T-34s were much more roughly finished; this did not compromise mechanical reliability, however.[29]

In 1943, T-34 production had reached an average of 1,300 per month; this was the equivalent of three full-strength Panzer divisions.[35] By the end of 1945, over 57,300 T-34s had been built: 34,780 T-34 tanks in multiple variants with 76.2 mm guns in 1940–44, and another 22,609 of the revised T-34-85 model in 1944–45.[36] The single largest producer was Factory N.183 (UTZ), building 28,952 T-34s and T-34-85s from 1941 to 1945. The second-largest was Krasnoye Sormovo Factory N.112 in Gorky, with 12,604 in the same period.[37]

At the start of the war, T-34s were about four percent of the Soviet tank arsenal, but by the end it made up at least 55% of tank production (based on figures from;[38] Zheltov 2001 lists even larger numbers).

Following the end of the war, a further 2,701 T-34s were built prior to the end of Soviet production. Under license, production was restarted in Poland (1951–55) and Czechoslovakia (1951–58), where 1,380 and 3,185 T-34-85s were made, respectively, by 1956.[39] Altogether, as many as 84,070 T-34s are thought to have been built, plus 13,170 self-propelled guns built on T-34 chassis.[40] It was the most-produced tank of the Second World War, and the second most-produced tank of all time, after its successor, the T-54/55 series…

The T-34 was one of the best protected tanks in the world in 1941. Good armour thickness was enhanced by the sloped armour shape, which provided protection in excess of what armour thickness alone would indicate. Some tanks also had appliqué armour of varying thickness welded on to the hull and turret. Tanks thus modified were called s ekranami (Russianс экранами, “with screens”).[25]

The USSR donated two combat-used Model 1941 T-34s to the United States for testing purposes in late 1942. The examinations, performed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, revealed problems with overall armour build quality, especially of plate joins and welds, as well as the use of soft steel combined with shallow surface tempering. Leak issues were noted as well: “In a heavy rain lots of water flows through chinks/cracks, which leads to the disabling of the electrical equipment and even the ammunition”.[43] Earlier models of the T-34, until the Model 1942, had cast turrets whose armour was softer than that of the other parts of the tank, and offered poor resistance even to 37 mm anti-aircraft shells.

Despite these deficiencies, the T-34’s armour proved problematic for the Germans in the initial stages of the war on the Eastern Front. In one wartime account, a single T-34 came under heavy fire upon encountering one of the most common German anti-tank guns at that stage of the war: “Remarkably enough, one determined 37 mm gun crew reported firing 23 times against a single T-34 tank, only managing to jam the tank’s turret ring.”[44] Similarly, a German report of May 1942 noted the ineffectiveness of their 50 mm gun as well, noting that “Combating the T-34 with the 5 cm KwK tank gun is possible only at short ranges from the flank or rear, where it is important to achieve a hit as perpendicular to the surface as possible.”[26] However, a Military Commissariat Report of the 10th Tank Division, dated 2 August 1941 reported that the frontal armour could be effectively defeated within 300-400 m by the 37 mm Pak 36’s armour-piercing shot.[45][46] According to an examination of damaged T-34 tanks in several repair workshops in August to September 1942, collected by the People’s Commissariat for Tank Industry in January 1943, 54.3% of all T-34 losses were caused by the German long-barreled 50 mm KwK 39 gun.”(from Wikipedia’s article)

The T34 has its own museum here!

Image: “Monument to Soviet Tank Crew Warriors in Sevastopol” by Cmapm – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monument_to_Soviet_Tank_Crew_Warriors_in_Sevastopol.jpg#/media/File:Monument_to_Soviet_Tank_Crew_Warriors_in_Sevastopol.jpg

3 Comments

  1. Great introduction, Sisyphus. Important facts here that few know. Lots of great facts, too, about this tank. I’m not a pro, so it’s a little overwhelming for me, but I like what you write about the battle of Stalingrad and its significance.

    Like

  2. Wow, that’s so long since I read about World War II from the “other” side that often is forgoten .
    Despite the fact that it was so important to the end of WWII.
    Thank you telling us about it.

    There is only one error in your story. There is nothing called Czech army. It was Czechoslovakia army and nothing else.
    Your abbreviation omits the second part of that country that was even more affected by WWII. and I do not think it is fair to them ..

    One more time, thank you telling us this interseting facts.

    Good luck with A-Z soon is it over. I am also doing this challenge and I am really enjoying it.

    Angelzuz

    http://angelzuz.blogspot.se/

    Like

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